Monday, 19 November 2012

Can I wear slippers in church?

It’s that time of year again, when the elderly man in the bungalow, with the long white beard, dons his red suit and we in the village suspend disbelief for a couple of hours. The brass band decides whether to risk rusting their instruments in the mizzle, and we the villagers traipse to the square and pay vast amounts of cash for a plastic cup of watery mulled wine. Yes it’s lighting up night. – hurrah!

Obviously, the charity shop will be selling charity seasonal cards and the hairdressers will be steamed up with some sort of hands on treatment. The post office will attempt to be jolly, with its decorations from the 1970s, but will be firmly shut for the occasion.

The church choir (all five of them) will attempt at warbling against the throng and I will no doubt take pity and raise the sound level with my hearty soprano.

I’m not sure who will provide the mince pies and sausage rolls this year, now that the hardware store (and his wife) are no longer trading, hopefully our new upmarket bread shop and cafĂ© will fill the gap – maybe the Wives  and Conservative Clubs or Women’s Institute will rise to the pastry challenge. Clearly, we are not the kind of Cornish village that attracts ice-daring coachloads such as Mousehole. We just mooch about, say a few hellos, and head for the pub or telly back home.

From this day forward we are expected to display our Christmas cheer in light form, until the New Year. As half of the adult population, in my home, doesn’t recognise it (being ‘ba humbug’ until the actual morning/afternoon of the 25th) we tend to have minor conflict over the cost of electricity versus community spirit – all very loving and peaceful.

The art of persuading the beloved to hedge trim, around the string of outside lights, requires the manipulating attributes of Eve. How to persuade him that climbing up a ladder and trimming bits of foliage is a remarkably good idea requires a great deal of subtle crafting. My tips are as follows: never on an empty stomach, never on a cold, foggy night, always provide the tools of torch and secateurs and be prepared to hold the ladder clearly wearing more than an Eve-like fig leaf (it's more sensible to alert traffic rather than scare it). These tips are not foolproof and unlikely to work now I have blogged about them. So if all else fails do it yourself.

As to Christmas this year, now the children are grown up we have respite for a while. We can roast a bird, light a fire, drink a glass or two and indulge in some quality choral renditions. I can Midnight Mass it to my heart’s content and still get a book token (hopefully) - all with my slippers on (yes even the Midnight service because the church is my home too).

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The 'G word'

It was while I was securing my bunting to the hedge and planting my red, white and blue flowers that I started to list all the things I appreciate about being British. Of course a cup of tea is number one, although it has to be made as Brown Owl taught me and no doubt approved of by my village WI. Then there is the way we can have a conversation with anyone as long as we begin with the weather. Not only are we preoccupied with it, but we brave the elements in a way that is verging towards perverse. I fine example of this being that group of vocalists, at the Jubilee Pageant, heartily 'lunging it' for Her Majesty whilst risking death by rain.

Then of course it is not long before I consider the rich diversity of the English language which then leads me rather swiftly to my pet 'dislike' at the moment. It is beginning to become one of those irritations that might lead to a full-on heckle one day. Every so often I begin to twitch when a certain ugly Americanism is used, referring to me as part of a collective, and if it is used more than once then I positively steam under my cardigan. It happens in church, it happens in school and now I hear it has happened on the BBC, from the spokesperson for 'Queen's English' no less when she was talking about the media; she called them 'guys' - aagghh! Since when have I become a 'guy'? Not only am I female, but surely this term is the male equivalent to 'gal' or 'doll'. Whatever happened to 'folks' or even plain 'everyone'? Such bliss to be included in a group of everyone....

Last year my pet hate was the amount of 'likes' said instead of 'um'. In presentation assessments from a group of AS students, out of around 32 students not one managed a two-minute speech without a 'like', and the record of 'likes' in one speech was in the mid-thirties (no joke). It has become a generational speech impediment!

Thankfully, I think we have moved away from 'wicked', which was all very silly really, along with displaying underpants - although a few Cornish boys haven't quite caught up with the rest of UK culture yet (bless).

And we now have 'yeh, yeh, yeh' which needs to be said with rapid fire all on the same note. Why can't we just let our yes be yes and our no be no? What does this need to emphasise an affirmative mean?

But going back to the word 'Guys',  don't we put him on the bonfire? So not only does this word have gendered connotations it has religious and political ones too. But to top the list of reasons not to use the word is that it is simply far too cheesy. Fair enough if you are an American cartoon character who needs to gather a group together it might  be acceptable, passably, but only just. I have to say that I am a bit of an expert when it comes to gathering groups of people together: Year 8s, 9s, 11s, 12s and 13s to be precise. Needless to say I NEVER use the word 'guys' and have managed quite successfully to gather hundreds of individuals without uttering the 'G word' once.

So hopefully, the need to address us as male Americans will soon pass and like crimplene flares and Spandau Ballet blouses will become a thing of our cultural past and a mere mention in a Bill Bryson book.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Time for a car boot sale

Once the lighter evenings set in I start getting all productive. This can mean that the 'to do' list can move into the ridiculous and the reality doesn't always match up to my creative ideas. Inevitably tasks always take longer than I think they will, use up more energy than I have and require more money than is sensible to spend.

There are other obstacles to achieving my aims in this order: Cornish wet and windy days, brambles, weeds and more weeds, lack of skill and a general curling up like the cat mode that seems to be preferable than tackling an overgrown hedge.

This said, I have had a massive anti-social bonfire that was very effective and thankfully part of rural living (all our near neighbours welcome the smell!) I have scrubbed the mould off the side of the cottage with a broom and scared a few elderly passersby (on their way to a village charity bacon-bap event) with my squirting hose-pipe. I've thought about pruning the raspberry canes and tidying the strawberry bed and intend to weed a flower border very soon (yawn).

I went into a mad frenzy yesterday clearing unwanted 'stuff', sticking price tags onto everything ready for a car boot sale. It is amazing how once you have space you can fill it with all manner of paraphernalia. I am not sure how we acquired a rusty set of 1970s golf clubs or how I can persuade my dearest to go through the four boxes of LPs under the stairs. He went through a phase of wood turning candlesticks, which means we have the finest collection - enough to fill an entire Dickens novel. So I have been ruthless and decided to purge the cottage of anything wax and scented that isn't 'BBC period drama like'.

My desk drawers have never been tidier and I've discovered a whole load of pens to put by the telephone - yay!. A few of the cobwebs have been attacked by the vacuum nozzle and I have decided to part with the foot spa.

I wish I could afford a whole team of labourers to cobble the driveway so it looks like the quay on St Michael's Mount, keep doves and have a yurt in the garden. However, I will be satisfied when the broken window pane gets replaced, the drive gets swept and we finally fill the chicken house with hens. It is a case of cutting our cloth and making do and mending. "With food and clothes be satisfied". Anything else will only eventually end up at a car boot sale or become a home for spiders. After all, we can't take it with us.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Flora Day

Today was Flora Day – an ancient tradition when the change from Spring to Summer is recognised by the whole town of Helston (where my mother’s nursing home is).

There is, no doubt, some pagan significance to the ritual, but nowadays it is a mix of secular (make as much money as possible by any means possible – mostly real ale), general merriment with a touch of Church and folklore thrown in.

All the gates are festooned with bluebells and rather ambitious arches of fauna that generally wilt by lunchtime. The town band does a magnificent job of playing a medley of the same tune over and over – which can be a bit mind numbing and most certainly lip numbing for the brass and silver sections. The tune would be good for a baby’s ‘go to sleep’ toy.

However, despite this year’s distinct lack of Lilly of The Valley for lapel nosegays (thanks to the royal wedding and Katherine’s desire for authentic English, Spring flowers; my mother had one solitary sprig) the jamboree carried on with gusto.

Tradition still holds as the dancers parade through my mother’s nursing home, Penhellis, and as a resident’s family member I gain the status of privileged person for a day. This involves sitting on a particular side of a piece of red-tape and I gain free access to a buffet table along with Pimms and wine provision.

It is amusing to see the other supposed important people dance pass, including our local MP and the mayor. Ladies make an effort to wear long-length ball gowns with ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ hats.  All the men are in suits and top hats creating a rather sweaty and red-faced scenario. The children dance in white earlier and 'pretend servants' do their bit at tea-time.

My mother in her wheelchair sat like the Queen and waved the town's dignitaries pass, I, her lady in waiting, drank tea and was thankful for a sit-down (knowing that a raised bed of weeds awaited me at home).

It is the perfect opportunity for alcoholics to get drunk by lunchtime and stumble about the lanes of Cornwall. The day is ideal for family picnics and community catch-ups. Inside the nursing home it means all residents’ families can support each other, in a reserved way, as we cope with the reality of dementia, Parkinsons, sight loss and other conditions of old age. One resident is 102.

As I made my way back home, I considered how after all the fuss and bother we all went to, and the effort we made to get a close to the Furry Dance, I still doubt whether my mummy will remember a thing. However, at least I was offered a respite from weeding and a chance to feel like the lady of a country manor for an hour or two.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Bamboo baby rescue

It’s amazing what you can do with a bamboo cane. Of course my village is 'bamboo central', in Cornwall, with three public sub-tropical gardens on my doorstep – each with an array of bamboo clumps. We have our own crop, which subtly hides our neighbours’ modern bungalow and gives the impression, from the kitchen window, that we live in an isolated paradise. Our neighbour is obviously offended by its spreading capacity and seems to be applying some killing chemical on his side; however we still smile and say “hello”; so all is well.

The super hero of my life has been at it again. This time he has prevented a small baby from slowly boiling whilst being trapped in a car.

At first I noticed a rather stunning ‘yummy mummy’, in a particularly arresting red sundress, on the petrol station forecourt. I daresay that most men would leap to her defence if she cried, “I can’t work the air pressure thingy” or “there is a squashed fly on my windscreen”. So at first I didn’t bother as my dearest went to attend to her and her car.

It wasn’t until five minutes later, when he beckoned me over, that I realised I was needed in yet another rural drama.

Picture the scene, we are on the outskirts of Truro, it is a hot, sunny bank-holiday and a tiny baby’s mother has locked her keys into the car along with her child. It wasn’t an emergency so the police said.

The hero of the scene, already well accustomed to panicking females (in fact, he rescued his daughter’s organic pork in the oven, after she locked herself out of her second-floor flat, only a few days ago) took charge and began to master the problem. Incidentally, over the same weekend he also held her up while she fainted at a concert and rescued all her silver bangles and rings, which she took off in a Turkish restaurant in order to play the guitar and sing (as you do) - all another story!

Back to the sun scorched garage, “What we need is a garden cane and a coat-hanger,” he said. Thankfully a nearby gardener had decided to grow Sweet-peas and an already gathering group of concerned onlookers went knocking on doors for metal wire. So armed with a bamboo garden cane, the art of rescue began.

Thankfully the dippy delight dressed in red had left a tiny gap open in the driver’s window. This enabled the hero to slide the cane through the aperture and thus gain access to the stifling car.

The baby was oblivious tot the growing concern outside and I had begun the task of bossing my beloved around (something I have 25 years of experience doing). “Right a bit, left a bit, there press now!” all said in an attempt to press the controls on the inside. Despite two attempts we failed and it became clear that the ‘safety technology’ of the car was far too safe.

By this time several nearby homeowners had turned up with an array of coat-hangers. However, dippy-delight yummy-mummy had left her keys on the passenger seat (for the last time- we hope).  Using the bossy wife and super hero teamwork, along with garden bamboo precision, we managed to tip the keys over. Then locating the precise button super hero pressed down hard and yeehhah the locking mechanism did its bleep and flashing light thing thus releasing the door locks – phew!

At this point the mother leapt into the car saying all sorts of endearments to the oblivious baby.  There was a cheer from the crowd, waving unwanted coat-hangers, and then the mummy leapt out to hug and kiss my husband saying,
Thankyou, oh thankyou!” His cheeks matched her dress and I must admit to joining her in a few tears of relief.

As we drove off I reflected on the fact I had married a useful sort of male, the type to be marooned on a desert island with. In fact if I was to write an article for a leading women’s magazine on ‘how to find a good husband’, I might set up a series of tests:
      What uses can you think of for a garden cane?
      How would you break into a second-floor flat to ensure the pork in the oven doesn’t burn? 


3.  How would you rescue a boiling baby in a car?


Do you grow Sweetpeas?

Four out of four equals marriable.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Pork chop crash

There’s never a dull moment in the village. We were being lazy – hot pot of coffee, reading the news (on Facebook -not weekend papers) when we heard an almighty bang and then subsequent crashing metal noises. My initial thought was that the phantom tractor driver was back to destroy more cars parked in the lane.

My dearest, wearing only boxer shorts, rushed upstairs in search of combats while I considered wearing my spotty pyjamas with green wellies to face the scene; I decided to leave him to deal with the crisis.

He came to report that an old boy had crashed into a parked car and rolled his own over - creating a bit of a mess. By the time ‘the hero of my life’ arrived a few villagers were already standing and staring whilst the old boy sat stunned, airbag inflated and blood pouring from a gash in his head.

It took only a few moments to assess that no-one was actually doing anything so as usual, ever the interventionist, ‘Mr Fix-it’ got stuck in. This involved persuading the rather muddled motorist that it wasn’t going to be a good idea to drive home straightaway, especially without a windscreen, and that maybe a roll of loo paper might be applied to the side of his face.

By this time the Church Warden had started sweeping the road, his wife was calling for emergency services (which we all knew would take at least 15 mins to get through all the lanes) and Mr Garage man came down to generally join in the throng.

‘Mr Fix it – wonder man’ had turned off the engine, put the handbrake on, applied toilet roll and begun piecing together the story. The old boy had just come back from Pool Market with his weekly shop of meat and was worried:
“My wife will kill me,” he fretted. Thus began a pastoral conversation, a soothing chat that whilst wives may be bossy and possibly angry at their husband’s driving techniques it was ever likely she wouldn’t actually be cross but rather concerned.

Of course once the paramedics arrived, after a brief promise to pray for the old boy, my beloved returned to luke-warm coffee. It was a sad moment. We considered how this would most likely be the last drive for the old boy. I was reminded of my own mother’s scrapes with parked wing-mirrors and sides of cars before she finally got so lost around a roundabout that she admitted defeat.

He has probably been pottering about the lanes of Cornwall all his life, and will now have to rely on the pitiful provision of public transport. It was then I considered his weekly shop. “Hadn’t we better put it in our freezer?” I suggested.
“Good idea”, Mr Fix-it said bounding out again.

He thinks the police-officer was rather amused. But for those that are familiar with Pool Market meat wagon – it is hardly Waitrose and probably supplies most pensioners and benefit recipients in West Cornwall.The boot was opened to reveal the largest bag of Pork chops imaginable. After some deliberation it was decided that Mrs Garage owner should look after the butcher’s bounty.

“You are officially the keeper of the Pork chops,” she was told as they were handed over.

Maybe it will be last time this elderly couple will manage to gather their own produce for a Sunday roast. I am slightly comforted by the knowledge that we have one of the last, surviving ‘meals on wheels’ in the country (run by village volunteers) but even so there is a poignancy in witnessing another’s youthful vigour pass into frailty.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Power surge

I’ve succumbed to old-fogey paraphernalia. It started with reading glasses (ugly pair by the bed, sophisticated pair by the patchwork) and has progressed to garden kneeler and finally a ‘hidden extra’ on the bicycle.

In my defence it is discreet; from a distance I look like an old-fashioned midwife. The Somerset-levels wicker is already ensconced on the front and the frame is of classic design. However, sneaking behind the central ‘thingy’ (the bit that the saddle sits on) is this rather super-duper power surging battery. Oh, the freedom!

It is almost like being on a horse but not. I simply power up the hills, arrive sweat-free and don’t pass out in hedges – it is marvellous.  Obviously I am very road aware, but despite this, I have noticed a few admiring glances from traffic queues, as I power up the hills – dressed in my becoming 1980s trackies, found on the beach shades, safety helmet and bright green mac’. They obviously think I’m  a very fit plump lady.

For those familiar with the territory – I nearly made it up to the top of Maenporth hill. It feels like a ‘big daddy’ is pushing you along – he obviously conked-out in Cornwall.

So I shall be venturing out on my new wizzy gadget – ringing my bell and generally whiffing those country smells as I go. I must try hard to avoid swallowing a bee, which I did whilst haring down that mammoth hill at Lacock  (with Sam Godfrey and Claire Lillystone for my Sheldon readers) aged 16.

I am slightly troubled by the fact it is similar, in principle, to one of those power scooters and I am painfully aware that I don’t look like one of those frog-like, lycra-clad Sunday road congestors  - but at least I am as happy as the day I first rode without stabilizers  - which is all that matters.